Truth. Order. Justice.
The three words that I’ve seen used the most to describe ma’at.
Out of these three words, “order” always sticks out to me as potentially being a bad choice to describe ma’at. Why? Well, in short, I believe its because we tend to use one variation of “order” at the exclusion of other possible definitions. As an experiment to start the conversation off, what do you think of when you think of the word order? Maybe some of you think of
Or maybe it’s
Even if you didn’t think of these specific examples, I’m willing to bet that whatever came to your mind shared some of the same underlying associations as the gifs above. That’s because our culture has a specific inferred meaning when we use the word “order” — whether we acknowledge those associations or not.
Whenever the word “order” is used, it’s almost always in the context of a very clear difference of power. It’s often used in terms of schools, where teachers demand order. Or in the military, where soldiers are given orders. Or even in more harmless situations, where you place an order at a restaurant. All of these things imply a situation where the person receiving the “order” is not allowed to rebuff the order. The soldier is not allowed to tell their commander “no,” students can be heavily punished for telling their teachers no, and can you imagine what would happen if a waiter told you that your order was not going to be followed or not allowed? Even when a waiter has to tell someone that something in their order isn’t available due to circumstances beyond their control, people lose their minds.
In our cultural lexicon, order usually means that you’re doing something without question. It’s a directive that you must follow, lest you get into trouble. For most of us in the US, “order” is essentially authoritarian in nature — to the point that the word “authoritarian” is used in the Oxford definition for “order.”
While there is second definition for “order,” I don’t think that most of us are using that definition when we tie the word “order” to ma’at. I’ve watched people dictate that authoritarian order is inherently implied and mandatory with ma’at simply because the Egyptians engaged in a form of it, and it overlaps with our preconceived notion of order and what it entails. Which is to say that since they so readily line up with one another via authoritarianism, I feel like most people are lazily assuming that one begets the other (authoritarian order begets ma’atian order.) What I’d really like to do with this post is challenge that notion by redefining what order could mean for us when associated with ma’at. And to also buck the idea that authoritarianism is inherent in, and therefore mandatory to, our religious structure.
A New Frame of Reference
The less-often cited definition for order usually entails things such as “a specific pattern or sequence,” such as alphabetical order, numerical order, etc. I believe that this definition is closer to what we need, but I feel that it could use refinement for our specific needs.
I would like to posit that for our needs, order would mean something along the lines of “a predictable rhythm or pattern.”
Every single living thing/system on this planet has (ideally) a rhythm, a pattern to their existence. You wake up after sleeping, you do the general same routine after you get up, you might do similar things Monday through Friday, and then do a secondary set of “similar things” on Saturday and Sunday. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. The night follows the day, and the moon is constantly shifting between being visible and completely non-existent to the naked eye.
These patterns form the basis of our existence, and the nature of our patterns often determines whether we’re healthy and having our needs met or not. In the last post about determining ma’at from isfet, I mentioned that the frequency of doing something can often turn innocuous acts into something more isfetian in nature, and this plays into the idea of regular habits and patterns. If you do something that is unhealthy once in a while, its usually not a big deal. Do it all the time, and it becomes a pattern that can slowly unravel your life.
When we’re talking about ma’atian order, we’re talking about having rhythms that help support living things. When you’re acting in ma’at, you’re acting to maintain these beneficial rhythms, while also acting to destroy, alter or remove patterns that hurt living things.
When viewed from this perspective, it explains why the Egyptians crafted tons of holidays, rituals, and actions that were consistently enacted upon to help ensure that the patterns of the Duat and earth alike were kept in regularity. Because anything that could be done to make sure that the patterns of the world stayed as consistent as possible should be done as a part of maintaining ma’at.
I also think it should go without saying that making these regular patterns as predictable as possible was also on the agenda. Humans tend to do best with a certain level of predictability in their life, and I feel like including this in the understood meaning of ma’atian order only serves to help us really understand and appreciate how important the consistency of it all really is.
The rhythm should be dynamic in the sense that it has diversity and harmony, but it still needs to have some level of regular occurrence in order to be stable. When examined on a whole, it becomes easier to see how the diversity and harmony feed into the stable complexity of it all. Everything feeds into everything else, and when the rhythm of it all is maintained, everything more or less gets its needs met.
When Authoritarian Order is Conflated with Ma’atian Order
From this perspective it becomes easier to see how authoritarian order really doesn’t synergize well with ma’at. Authoritarianism seeks to control (create “order”) everything it touches, and severely punishes anything trying to resist its control. To this end, it often seeks to divide people into two groups: and in-group (us) and an antagonistic out-group (them), and they basically use the in-group to keep the out-group in check as much as possible. You can see this in America right now in the form of loosely-made militia groups that act out a sort of vigilante justice wherever they’re allowed to.
Because the in-group always needs an out-group, authoritarianism will consistently find new demographics to attack, and in the process usually ends up eradicating the harmony and diversity necessary to keep ma’at in place. People are usually forced to live within strict confines and regulations at the risk of extreme punishment, with no real recourse to punish those who are putting the regulations in place. Ultimately, there is no means to change your fate or change the world you live in, you’re ultimately forced to deal with whatever you are given because there is little-to-no alternatives available to you. This, of course, is mentally taxing and degrading. The system as a whole may continue to exist, but its parts and pieces are not healthy, and thus are living in a form of chronic disorder (isfet.)
When you start to really examine how this system can destroy people’s health, it becomes painfully clear that by its very nature, authoritarianism does not foster ma’at. Only a tiny percent of the population really flourishes under authoritarianism, leaving the rest of the population to wither and rot.
And for those of you who are wondering if I feel that the ancient Egyptians were doing things outside of ma’at, I would say that based off of today’s standards, the answer is yes. Plenty of their population lived in unnecessary squalor due to inequality at play within the society, and I can’t say that I believe that to be within ma’at. Yes, upper class people were to look after their subjects and provide them with what they needed, but its been shown time and time again that people who are in positions of privilege and esteem typically aren’t willing to give what they have away unless they really really have to.
While I understand that a couple thousand years ago was different, and that we shouldn’t necessarily judge ancient cultures based off of today’s expectations, I also feel its our job to reflect critically on the past, not to assume that the movements of the past are inherently superior simply because they’re old. The Egyptians committed all sorts of brutal acts in the name of ma’at. If we’re able to deem these acts as being not-within-ma’at, I’m pretty sure we could find it in ourselves to do the same with their governmental system, instead of blindly trying to recreate it in the here and now.
At its core, ma’atian order strives to bring balance and health to all of its individual components. It is a bottom-up mentality, ensuring that the smallest, yet most foundational parts are taken care of, with the understanding that healthy foundations allow everything else above it to thrive. This format allows for (relatively) predictable patterns to emerge that allows for all of the parts of the system to synchronize together. It is through the harmonization of all of the parts that allows the system to really thrive and creates the predictable “order” that everyone seeks.
It is my hope that moving forward, if the word “order” is used to define ma’at, that this is the definition that comes to mind, because this is the only definition of “order” that really makes any sense within the ma’atian paradigm.
- Ma’at, Order, and Everything in Between
- A Proposed Model
- KRT: Creation, Uncreation, and Balance
- We Should Worry about Authoritarian Practices, Not Just Populist Leaders